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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Nutritionist Alice Ammerman Speaks on Increasing Access to Local Food

I recently went to a talk  given by Dr. Alice Ammerman, a Carrboro Farmers’ Market regular and nationally renowned nutritionist and food policy expert at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Ammerman’s work addresses one of the most pressing matters of today—childhood obesity in low-income populations throughout the state of North Carolina. I was eager to hear what Dr. Ammerman would have to say about how to increase access to the local, organic foods that I am fortunate enough to eat (whether that fortune comes through eating the “home-use” vegetables—veggies not “pretty” enough to sell to consumers, but still delicious—from the farm I’m working on, or spending a large portion of my monthly budget on food).

I’ll admit it: I had lots of expectations for the talk. I wanted Dr. Ammerman to tell me how to make the kind of food that I eat on a daily basis accessible to the rest of North Carolinians. Last year North Carolina ranked 11th in the country for child food insecurity, with nearly one-in-four children under the age of five in the Triangle region classified as “hungry.” It’s not okay to me that hunger is so pervasive in a region so well-known for its transition from tobacco plantations into more diversified agriculture.

And while Dr. Ammerman found in her research that some farmers’ markets outside of the Triangle area are actually comparable to prices of grocery stores, it’s not the case here. The price difference is due in fact partly that it’s slightly more expensive to grow organic crops (certified or not) and also partly because there are many people in the Triangle region that are willing to pay those prices.

While I wanted to learn more about tangible local approaches to increasing access to healthy food, Dr. Ammerman’s talk was inspiring—she’s one of the many people who are responsible for shaping nutritional policies to create access to healthy food. Coincidentally or not, a week after her talk, Disney announced their plans to eliminate junk food advertising for kids. Although Disney’s ads won’t be changed until 2015, I’m predicting that advertising healthy foods will help to change people’s attitudes about what they should be feeding their children. It will also hopefully encourage other large companies like Disney to not target junk food advertising at children.

The take away message for me was that food is cultural. In order to create access for healthy, local, and ideally organic foods, you need to offer the types of food representative of the different populations living in your community. It’s also about forming relationships with community members, making good food affordable, and creating an atmosphere that’s open to anyone to shop.

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working full-time at a small, organic farm outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina called Maple Spring Gardens. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Posted on: June 12, 2012, 11:10 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

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